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March 15, 2012

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills is rightly concerned about the effect a cut in international student numbers will have on the UK economy ("Britain needs foreign talent flow - anything impeding it is a 'threat' ", 1 March). We are already seeing reputable businesses going under as a result of ill-considered visa revisions, with Cavendish College named in a recent report from the CentreForum thinktank as an early, high-profile casualty.

So-called "concessions" from the Home Office are really token gestures: the numbers allowed to remain under the "entrepreneur" ruling total a paltry 1,000 students with "world-class innovative ideas" and £50,000 to invest in a business, while it will prove difficult for non-European Union students with no work experience to immediately secure jobs at graduation that pay more than £20,000.

Universities UK recently renewed its push for international students to be classed as "education tourists" and therefore detached from the general immigration debate. This is a sensible idea. The latest visa figures released in February show a 6 per cent drop in student-visa applications but a steady immigration count of 250,000. This is damning evidence that penalising international students is doing nothing to tackle net migration - but plenty to damage UK universities.

Glyn Williams, the Home Office's director of migration policy, has protested that the number of international students studying in the UK has trebled in a decade - but that is only in relation to the continued globalisation of higher education. The truth is that the UK's proportion of international students has declined compared with competitors such as the US and Australia.

International students should not be included in general net-migration figures as they are not migrants: Home Office data show that only 3 per cent remain after five years. Targeting this demographic will damage the UK's academic reputation, university sector and economy: in fact, the only thing it won't touch is net migration.

James Pitman, Managing director, HE - UK and Europe Study Group

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